ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild held an introductory press conference on Monday for a player who needs no introduction in the state of hockey.
The Wild made the reigning Minnesota Mr. Hockey – Eden Prairie High School defenceman Nick Leddy – their first-round draft pick on Friday. It’s just the second time in franchise history that the team has used its first-round pick on a Minnesota-born player.
Leddy, who has already enrolled in summer school at the University of Minnesota, helped the Eagles win the big-school state high school hockey title last season. He says it’s a dream come true to be selected by the team that plays about a 20-minute drive from his home.
“Especially because I’ve grown up here all my life,” Leddy said. “Now I’m going to the ‘U’ for college. I’ll just pretty much be a Minnesota boy.”
He expects to spend the next two seasons playing for the Gophers before he hopes to make the jump to the NHL.
“That’s a goal of mine,” Leddy said. “I’ll get here as quick as I can.”
Wild assistant general manager/player personnel Tommy Thompson called the smooth-skating, puck-moving Leddy “the modern-day defenceman.” He said there is no rush to get Leddy, who at 18 still has some growing and filling out to do, up to the big club.
“The trick isn’t how quickly they get to the NHL, it’s how good they are when they get there,” Thompson said.
The Wild also made a few transactions on Monday, extending qualifying offers to six restricted free agents.
The Wild qualified goaltender Josh Harding, centre Benoit Pouliot, newly acquired centre Kyle Brodziak, right wing Danny Irmen, left wing Robbie Earl and defenceman Clayton Stoner.
With all-star goaltender Niklas Backstrom signing a contract extension, Harding could be a valuable commodity on the trade market. He had a 2.21 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in 19 appearances last season.
Pouliot was fourth overall draft choice in 2005, but has been wildly inconsistent and bounced between the minors and the NHL.
“I certainly know that he has been a player that has lacked consistency in terms of production and work ethic,” GM Chuck Fletcher said. “Those are two areas he’ll have to improve upon to be successful.
“But he has a talent package that very few players have. We’re looking at it as an opportunity for Benoit to show he can be a regular NHL player.”
The Wild did not qualify left wings Dan Fritsche, Peter Olvecky and Riley Emmerson and defenceman Paul Albers. Fritsche and Olvecky were the only two to log significant playing time with the Wild last season.
Fletcher said both players were not qualified to give the Wild as much financial flexibility as possible when the free agent market opens on Wednesday.